“Caught Up in You is Roni Loren’s best book to date. An angsty backstory made beautiful by a hero who doesn’t know how perfect he is. Don’t miss this Ranch treat!” —Carly Phillips, New York Times bestselling author
CAUGHT UP IN YOU
Book 5 - Loving on the Edge
The girl who has spent her life running is about to be caught . . . by love
After a shaky past, Kelsey LeBreck’s future is looking good. She’s been saving money for culinary school with her earnings from The Ranch, a private BDSM resort. Even better, she’s landed a day job where she can practice baking and flirt with her favorite customer. However, having secret fantasies about Wyatt Austin is where it has to end. If there’s one thing Kelsey knows can derail her, it’s a relationship. But when a danger from her past threatens to steal her fresh start, the intense executive may be the only one who can help her.
Wyatt doesn’t have room on his agenda for dating, but something about the pretty young waitress stirs desires he thought were long buried. So when he needs someone to pose as his girlfriend at an important business retreat and finds out Kelsey needs to go off the grid for a while, he can’t resist making her an offer. Soon, Kelsey learns that Wyatt’s power in the boardroom is no match for his power in the bedroom, and she wonders if her heart will survive. Because Wyatt Austin is a man who gets what he wants, and now he wants her.
Released: August 2013
READ CHAPTER 1
Copyrighted Material Roni Loren 2013 - All Rights Reserved Berkley Publishing Group
*18 and over only*
“You know, picturing someone naked this early in the morning isn’t good for your health.”
Kelsey LeBreck leaned forward to get a better view through the kitchen’s pass-through, smirking at Nathan’s jab but not tearing her gaze away from her subject. “Hush and keep flipping his eggs.”
But of course her co-worker ignored that command. “I mean, think how long you’ll have to wait before you can get home to your vibrator and imagine Mr. Tall, Dark, and Loaded rocking your world. You’re going to be so pent up and distracted, you’ll screw up everyone’s order.”
“I do that anyway.” Except his. Never his. Though, that wasn’t really an accomplishment, considering he always ordered the same thing.
“Yet you still get better tips than Chandra.”
“I’m charming that way.” And desperate. When that tip meant the difference between being able to pay for a tank of gas instead of riding the bus, she could channel so much sunshine and sweetness, even the grumpiest customer couldn’t be mad at her for long.
“Are the muffins ready to go in yet? Darryl’s going to be here any minute and you know how he gets if shit is late.”
“Working on it.” Kelsey blindly stirred her muffin batter as she watched Wyatt Austin adjust his glasses, fold his newspaper just so, and then spread out a stack of documents on the table in front of him. He had a way of moving that was somehow graceful and efficient all at once. Like he’d figured out the most streamlined way to do each and every thing so that he could fit the maximum amount of work into every minute of the day.
And maybe he had. God knows his schedule was more predictable than the sunrise. At six fifteen every weekday morning, he would walk in the cafe with his newspaper tucked under his arm and his own travel mug of coffee. He’d sit at the same table in the far corner, the one that provided him both a view of the television on the wall and the least amount of glare for his laptop screen. She knew that only because she’d finally asked him one day why he chose that booth all the time. When she’d joked that he sat there because it was her section, he’d just offered that enigmatic smile of his—one that had promptly made her forget the last order she’d taken from the table before him.
“You need to stop torturing yourself,” Nathan said from behind her, the sizzle of the griddle playing soundtrack in the background. “From what I’ve heard, the suit doesn’t date. And he’s not gay either. Believe me, I’d be the one serving him eggs and sausage if he were.”
She snorted and finally looked back at Nathan. “Sausage? You’re going with that one, really?”
He held his arms out to his sides and gave her a come-on-how-could-I-pass-that-up look.
“How do you even know this stuff? And you, with the fetish for skater boys, would go after Wyatt Austin, CEO-in-training? Please.”
“I love the shit out of that strong, silent type. They’re usually crazy good in the sack. Like they’re saving up all that intensity just for you.” He shrugged and turned over a row of bacon with his spatula. “And money never hurt anybody. I’m not above being a kept man.”
“You’re a top.”
“And so are you, baby girl. But that hasn’t stopped you from your mad, passionate love affair with Mr. In Charge.”
She sighed and turned back to her batter, grabbing a ladle so she could scoop it into the muffin tins. It was a mad, passionate love affair. He was the absolute perfect boyfriend for her right now. Delicious to look at, panty-dampening to fantasize about, and completely and utterly unattainable.
Nathan set a plate next to her and slid the egg white omelet and two slices of turkey bacon onto it. “Order up. Now, if you’re not going to give up on this crush, why don’t you take this plate over there and ask the guy out?”
She spun to face him, muffin tray in her hand. “Did you forget to take your meds today? I’m a waitress and wannabe baker. His family owns an entire company.”
“So the fuck what? He has more money than you. Big deal. Doesn’t mean he’s better than you. In fact, he’d be a damn lucky bastard to get a date with you. Hell, I’d take you out just to get these secret muffin recipes of yours.”
She handed the pan to him, picked up Wyatt’s plate, and kissed Nathan’s cheek. “Thanks, hon. But if I’ve learned one lesson in life, it’s that fantasy is always better than reality.”
He gave her a sly smile. “But fantasy can’t have breakfast in bed with you the next morning.”
No. But it also couldn’t break your heart.
Or break her.
Kelsey turned on her heel and pushed through the kitchen’s swinging door. Time to serve breakfast to her imaginary boyfriend.
Wyatt sipped his coffee and flipped through the reports he’d printed out last night. The profit margin was still in decent shape, but their client numbers had suffered a significant dip over the last two quarters. Their competitors Merrill and Mead were doing some mighty fast talking and had stolen two of Austin and Associates’ top clients—two clients who Wyatt had been making a shitload of money for. So God only knows what Tony Merrill had promised them to get them to leave. Or maybe Merrill was outright spewing lies about A&A. That’d be his style. The whole thing was giving Wyatt a twitch and a headache.
“Egg white omelet with spinach and cheddar and two slices of turkey bacon, extra crispy.”
Wyatt looked up from the papers, momentarily startled at the interruption. Damn. Usually he made a point to watch Kelsey’s swaying walk over to his table, and he felt a pang of disappointment over missing the morning highlight. That walk and smile were a big part of the reason he’d started driving four blocks past his building to eat breakfast at the Sugarcane Cafe.
His brother, Jace, had introduced him to the place and to Kelsey a few months ago, and Wyatt hadn’t been able to resist the temptation of being served by her each morning ever since. The woman could make that retro blue-and-white diner uniform look as sexy as high-end lingerie—not that it had stopped him from picturing her in the latter anyway. “Thank you, Kelsey. This looks great.”
“My pleasure. Anything else I can get you, Mr. Austin?” She smiled with a head tilt that made her blonde ponytail swing behind her.
He’d imagined very, very naughty things involving that ponytail one too many times. Cool it, Austin. “Tell me about the muffin du jour.”
She leaned over and grabbed the discarded sweetener packets he’d used in his coffee, inadvertently giving him a glimpse of the golden curved flesh peeking through the collar of her shirt. “Of course. Thinking of breaking tradition and ordering one today?”
He raised an eyebrow.
She shook her head, but there was humor glinting in those blue eyes. “It’s fresh raspberry made with a touch of vanilla and a citrus-infused simple syrup poured over the top to make them extra moist and tart.”
“But you don’t want one,” she said, confirming his standard answer before he could give it. “You know, one day I’m going to bake one that sounds so enticing, you’re not going to be able to help yourself.”
“Is that right?” he asked, fighting a smile. Truth was, he didn’t eat sweets that often. He kept his diet as regimented as his schedule. Discipline in all things. But he loved hearing her describe her food and watching the pure pride that starched her shoulders and brightened her eyes.
“Yep. It’s a personal mission of mine,” she said resolutely, her hand on her hip.
“What is?” he asked, leaning forward onto his forearms, holding her gaze. “To tempt me?”
Her eyes held his for a long beat before they shifted away. She pressed her lips together, smoothing her gloss. “Um . . .”
He realized too late how low his words had come out, how laced with innuendo. He quickly straightened in his seat, dragging his attention back to his work in front of him. Too young. Too sweet. Too messy. “Bring me one of those muffins, Kelsey.”
There was dead air for a moment, as if she were righting her thoughts, then she said, “Oh, of course. Right away, sir.”
But when she turned on her heel to go, a soft curse passed her lips. She spun back around, and he looked up to find her wearing a please-don’t-hate-me expression. “What’s wrong?”
She peeked back toward the kitchen. “I forgot. They won’t be ready for another fifteen minutes. I got in a little late from my overnight job and didn’t get them started on time.”
He frowned. “You work an overnight shift and then spend all morning here?”
“I only do the other job a few nights a week,” she said hastily. “Usually the timing works out, but there was just an accident on the interstate this morning and . . .”
He held up a palm, silencing her. “I’m not worried about muffins not being ready, Kelsey. But I am wondering when you find time to sleep and take care of yourself. And frankly, I’m a little concerned that you’re driving a car and working in a kitchen with no rest. That’s dangerous.”
Her gaze darted downward, a pink tinge washing over her cheeks. “It’s fine, really. I’m used to crazy schedules and don’t really need a lot of sleep.”
“And both jobs are necessary?”
She looked back at him, and he could see her lingering embarrassment over the conversation. He should be polite and let her off the hook. Her personal business was her own. But the thought of this vibrant girl working herself to the bone to get by wasn’t sitting well with him.
“I’m saving up for culinary school. This job pays for the basics. The other goes into my school savings.”
“Excuse me,” a nasally voice called from a few tables over. Snapping fingers accompanied the annoying interruption. They both turned. A pinched-mouthed woman had her bony hand in the air, trying to get Kelsey’s attention and beckoning her like she was an errant puppy. “I’m out of coffee.”
Wyatt sent the woman a quelling look, and she quickly looked down at her cream-cheesed bagel with a well-I-never huff. He brought his attention back to Kelsey. “Go ahead and take care of your tables. God forbid anyone has to wait a second for something. And let me know when the muffins come out.”
“Yes, sir,” Kelsey said, clearly relieved to be released from the conversation.
And though he was always at his desk by seven sharp, he lingered over his omelet today, taking the time to enjoy the hum of conversation around him and the sight of his favorite waitress doing her job.
Kelsey checked on him once and brought fresh coffee, but in between that, she was a nonstop machine of smiles, banter, and serving prowess. Even when she got something wrong, Wyatt watched in fascination as she won the person over to her side. Hell, she had one older man smiling and apologizing to her when she served him oatmeal instead of cheese grits. He’d patted Kelsey’s arm and joked that his wife must’ve put her up to it since he was supposed to be cutting back on calories anyway.
It was like watching a master-level demonstration in social sparkle. If he had to make all that small talk and feign interest in all these people’s woes and requests, he’d lose his fucking mind. But Kelsey seemed to thrive on it, like she fed off the energy in the diner. She was magnetic to watch.
By the time she made her way back to him with the fresh-out- of-the-oven muffin, his reports and laptop had gone untouched. She set down the plate and laid a fresh napkin next to it. “Hope it doesn’t disappoint after all this time.”
“Oh, I have no doubt it will have been worth the wait,” he said, watching her instead of looking at the muffin.
“Anything else I can get you?”
A hotel room and an hour of your time. Maybe two hours. Or a weekend. But he shook off the tempting thought. Yes, he came here every day to enjoy the presence of his pretty waitress. But he’d always done it with the knowledge of look but don’t touch. Like enjoying a fine piece of art. Meant to be observed, appreciated, even turned on by, but not meant for consumption. Beyond the fact that she was probably at least a decade younger than his thirty-seven years, Wyatt had learned to steer clear of the ones who nudged that old, buried desire that lay sleeping in the recesses of his past. And Kelsey didn’t just nudge it; she fucking assailed it.
“No, this will be all. Thank you.”
“Enjoy.” She gave him a bright smile and sauntered off, the walk just as impressive from the reverse angle. He liked that she moved around with the confidence of a woman who knew she drew attention from the opposite sex and was okay with that—no apologies or self-consciousness. She wouldn’t be the type to insist on doing it in the dark.
Awareness stirred below his belt as he imagined peeling her out of that uniform, tasting that pink-glossed mouth. He shifted in the booth. God, he needed to make some time to get laid. His body was reacting like a fucking teenager drooling over the head cheerleader. Ridiculous. Ever since his colleagues-with-benefits thing had ended with Gwen two months earlier, he’d been working too much to seek out anyone else. But if he didn’t set something up soon, he was going to have to stop coming here and putting temptation in front of himself.
He watched Kelsey maneuver toward the front of the restaurant as he broke off a piece of the muffin and put it in his mouth. Wow, that was good. Moist and still warm and not too sweet. The balance of flavors was complex enough to stand up in one of those frou-frou bakeries where they charged you six bucks for a pastry. No wonder the girl wanted to go to culinary school.
He was no chef, but he recognized skill when he tasted it. And she was wasting that in some hole-in-the-wall cafe.
Not your business, his mind warned him.
Wyatt glanced at the clock on the wall. He hadn’t shown up this late for work in longer than he could remember. His assistant was probably all aflutter, wondering if he was dead on the highway or something. Mr. Routine had deviated. Call the press! His phone was on vibrate in his laptop bag, but he had no doubt there’d be messages.
But right when he was about to pull his gaze away from Kelsey and grab his cell out of his bag’s pocket, she halted mid-step, panic freezing her features. Wyatt followed her line of sight to the man who’d walked into the diner. Stocky and spiky-haired with a mean set to his mouth, the guy looked like a human version of a hyena. Kelsey turned quickly toward the kitchen, the tray in her hand wobbling, but the hyena had already locked his sights on her and was making his way in her direction.
A cold feeling crawled up the back of Wyatt’s neck, his protective instincts going on full alert. This man meant trouble. Without moving his attention away from the guy, Wyatt gathered his papers and laptop and tucked them in the bag, preparing in case he needed to intervene.
Kelsey was on a hasty path to the kitchen, but before she could slip behind the counter, the guy laid a hand on her upper arm—a grab, really—and leaned next to her ear to whisper something. For a casual onlooker, the gesture would probably appear friendly, like someone she knew giving her a message. But even from behind, Wyatt could see her body go ramrod straight, could see that she didn’t want this person near her. He had the instant urge to break the guy’s nubby little fingers for daring to touch her.
She nodded stiffly and set her tray down on the counter. The guy nudged her toward the back end of the restaurant. She ventured a quick glance toward the kitchen as she took a step away from the counter, but the kid manning the griddle didn’t seem to notice anything was going on. Wyatt was already on his feet though, heading in that direction. He didn’t want to make a scene if this was, perish the thought, a lovers’ squabble or something. But he’d learned to follow his instincts in business and they never let him down, so he wasn’t going to distrust them in a situation like this.
The man was moving at a casual pace, but he was clearly guiding a reluctant Kelsey to the back exit. Wyatt let them stay a few steps ahead, so he wouldn’t be noticed. But if the two slipped out the back door, he was going to have to get involved. No way was he letting that punk get Kelsey alone in the alley.
“Mr. Austin! Wait!”
Wyatt turned, the instinct to respond to his name automatic, and the other waitress was waving a hand at him and holding his bag. “You forgot your things.”
“Put them behind the counter for me. I’ll be right back.” He quickly turned back toward the exit, but the heavy door was already closed. “Fuck.”
No longer caring who saw him, he jogged toward the door and shoved it open, blinking for a second so his eyes could adjust to the sunlight. “Kelsey.”
A small gasp.
He turned to the left to find Kelsey pressed up against the dirty wall and hyena-man looming over her, his arms braced on each side of her. Trapping her.
“It’s all right, man. Go back inside. I’m just having a little chat with my girlfriend,” the guy said, his easy tone not matching the spark of menace in his dark eyes.
Red leaked into Wyatt’s vision. “Get your fucking hands off her, or we’re going to have a problem.”
“Oh, really, GQ? What are you going to do?” He moved one hand off the wall and grabbed a knife from his waistband. “You going to choke me with your necktie?”
Kelsey’s gaze darted to Wyatt’s—but where he expected to see fear, he saw rage. He had only a split second to figure out she didn’t plan to stand by and let him handle things. “Kelsey, d—”
But before he got his words out, Kelsey jerked her knee upward, hitting the guy square in the nuts. The howl of pain echoed down the alley as the guy doubled over, and Kelsey ducked and juked left out of trajectory. Acting on pure adrenaline, Wyatt launched himself at the guy linebacker style, going straight for the arm wielding the knife, and slammed the guy’s hand against the wall. The knife clattered to the ground, but the guy swung at him with the other fist.
The punch landed against Wyatt’s jaw, almost knocking his glasses off his face, but the pain barely registered because the desire to maim, torture, and annihilate was burning like a bonfire in him. This scumbag had threatened Kelsey. Sweet, beautiful Kelsey. He grabbed the guy by the throat and smashed him against the wall again, using the extra inches of height he had on the guy to his full advantage. “You want to hit me again, asshole? Try it. Swing at me and give me a reason to choke you.”
Hyena’s eyes flooded with challenge. “Empty fucking threat. You know that bitch piece of ass isn’t worth getting a lifetime in jail.”
Wyatt’s grip tightened. He’d never thought himself capable of killing another person, but in that moment, he would’ve enjoyed ridding the world of this trash. He bared his teeth as he pressed just a little harder against the guy’s windpipe. “Oh, really? You’re going to count on that? I have lawyers so good that I could choke you right in the middle of the fucking restaurant and be lauded in the papers as a hero. So don’t. Fucking. Tempt. Me.”
The guy’s eyes bugged a bit at that, whether from the threat or the pressure on his throat, Wyatt didn’t care. Hyena wet his lips, and his voice came out hoarse. “Fine. Just let go, man.”
Police sirens wailed in the background, echoing against the buildings.
Wyatt eased the pressure and smiled. “I’ll be sure to do that. In a minute.”
The guy closed his eyes, sagging in Wyatt’s grip.
An hour and an ice pack later, Wyatt sat on the back steps outside the restaurant, watching as the last cop car pulled away. He’d asked them to make sure to not release details of the event. The last thing he needed was the press picking this up. His father would love that. Kelsey, who’d been standing at the end of the alley, turned around. She had her arms wrapped around herself and carried a hollow look in her eyes.
When she got close, he lowered the ice pack and saw the tears that shimmered in her eyes. “I am so sorry, Mr. Austin. Is it bad?” He set the ice pack aside, pushed himself to stand, and dusted off his slacks. “Please, I think we’ve moved on to the stage where you can call me Wyatt. And I’m fine. I’m more worried about you.
Did he hurt you?” She shook her head and a thousand responses seemed to touch her lips in rapid time, her mouth twitching. But after a few too many failed attempts at speaking, she simply flung herself at him, stunning him with a hug. His arms went out to his sides as if they’d forgotten the proper response to being embraced, and he looked down his body at the woman he’d so often imagined touching.
“Thank you,” she whispered into his shirt.
God, she was warm. And her scent . . . Who’d have ever thought bacon and maple syrup could smell so goddamned perfect on a woman? The thought that anyone would want to harm her had his rage firing up anew.
Unable to hold back any longer, he gave into the urge and wrapped his arms around her, holding her against him as she let the adrenaline and the emotions drain out of her.
The back door of the restaurant cracked open, and the kid from the kitchen peeked out, concern weighing heavy on his boyish features. He’d come outside a few times to check on Kelsey, and Wyatt had instantly liked him. “You okay, baby girl?”
Kelsey stepped out of Wyatt’s embrace with an apologetic smile and swiped at her face. “I’m fine, Nathan. Thanks for checking on me. And for calling the cops.”
“I’ve only got an hour left on my shift. Want me to give you a ride home after?” Nathan asked, looking between her and Wyatt.
“I’ve got her,” Wyatt said, cutting her off. Kelsey’s head whipped around. “Mr. Au— Wyatt, you don’t have to do that.”
“You worked all night and you’ve had a hell of a morning. You don’t need to be waiting around here. I want you in bed.”
Nathan’s eyebrows disappeared beneath his shaggy bangs.
“Resting,” Wyatt clarified.
Kelsey actually gave him a half smile on that one, some of the color coming back into her cheeks. “Yes, sir.”
He should’ve told her to drop the sir. But for reasons he’d rather not examine at the moment, he wasn’t in a hurry to stop hearing that little gem roll off her lips.
He pressed his hand to the small of her back to lead her back up the stairs, reciting in his head: Too young. Too sweet. Too messy.